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Popcorn is a Fun, Healthy and Educational Treat

Updated on September 17, 2014

Pop up a Healthy Treat

Popcorn is one of my favorite snack foods. It is one that my dad used to fix us as kids and one that I continue to fix for my kids.

The Popcorn Board estimates that Americans eat 17 billion quarts of popcorn each year. Which works out to 54 quarts or popcorn or 216 cups per person. That's a lot of popcorn.

Unfortunately, a lot of the popcorn that people are consuming, particularly at the movie theaters is expensive and anything but healthy.

The facts about just how unhealthy movie popcorn is with the the high calories and the fat are startling. A large serving of popcorn from Regal Theaters can contain 1,200 calories, 980 milligrams of sodium, and 60 grams of saturated fat, which is as much fats as one should eat in three days. Add in extra "buttery" topping and you are adding in an additional 120 to 130 calories, per pump.

The way our family fixes popcorn, it is also a healthy and inexpensive treat. Discover some of our tips and tricks to fixing healthy popcorn and healthy popcorn recipes.

While you are here, have some fun with popcorn, do come popcorn activities or color popcorn coloring pages.

Remember January 19th is National Popcorn Day, so get popping.

Bowl of Popcorn from Plattmunk

Have a Popcorn Snack

Nostalgic Air Popcorn Popper

Nostalgia Electrics OFP901 Popcorn Popper, Red/Gold
Nostalgia Electrics OFP901 Popcorn Popper, Red/Gold

The Nostalgic Air Popper combines the look of the old style popcorn popper with the healthier air popping.

Fun appliance for popping popcorn on a daily basis or at a party.


History of Popcorn

Image from Cretors
Image from Cretors

Popcorn a Snack Enjoyed for Centuries

Popcorn has been around since B.C. times with evidence that popcorn was in New Mexico over 5600 years ago and that people in China and India played games trying to catch popped corn kernels heated over fires and hot stones over 5000 years ago.

Popcorn was used in Aztec Indian ceremonies in the 16th century. Cortez was the first European to see popcorn when he invaded Mexico and came into contact with the Azetcs in 1519. In early America, popcorn became a part of many festivities, since it could be easily popped at home. Widespread planting of corn in the U.S. in the mid-1800's may have increased popcorn's availability.

According to the Popcorn Board Popcorn was very popular street vendor treat, especially after Charles Cretors introduced the first mobile popcorn machine at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. These mobile popcorn poppers allowed street vendors to serve popcorns at fairs, parks and expositions.

Popcorn remained popular even during the Depression, because at 5 or 10 cents a bag, popcorn was one of the few luxuries people could afford.

Since the Depression the popularity of popcorn has waxed and waned, with people consuming more at certain times than others. The availability of microwavable popcorn and supersized movie theater popcorn has lead to an increase in popcorn consumption.

Cretors Popcorn Wagon on Wikimedia.

More on the History of Popcorn at the Popcorn Board site.

How About Some Fresh Hot Popcorn?

Image by lumix2004
Image by lumix2004

Old Popcorn Making Stand by lumix2004

Movie Popcorn Facts

Popcorn and a Movie?

Image by mconnors
Image by mconnors

Popcorn and a Movie by mconnors.

Image by Kathleen Cavalaro
Image by Kathleen Cavalaro

Startling Facts about Movie Popcorn

Popcorn has almost become synonymous with going to the movies. People like to settle in with their large bucket of buttered popcorn to watch the show and yet eating a large container of movie popcorn may not be the healthiest thing to do.

In 2009 the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) released some pretty disturbing results from their scientific study of movie popcorn. Researchers at the CSPI sent samples of popcorn and toppings from the three largest theater chains (Regal, AMC and Cinemark) to an independent lab for analysis.

The results from the analysis and facts about just how unhealthy movie popcorn is with the the high calories and the fat are startling.

A large serving of popcorn from Regal Theaters can contain 1,200 calories, 980 milligrams of sodium, and 60 grams of saturated fat. Adding in any extra "buttery" topping adds in an additional 130 calories, per pump.

Putting these numbers into perspective makes the results of their findings nutritionally very concerning.Twelve hundred calories is the number of calories that some children and elder adults should eat for the entire day. Nine hundred and eighty milligrams is approximately 2/3 of the current recommendations for low sodium intake (1500 mg). Sixty grams of saturated fat is the amount of fat that could be consumed in three days of eating. Of course saturated fats are the type of fats that have been linked to heart disease and strokes. Increased sodium to high blood pressure.

If you have to have the popcorn, or are watching your calories, fat or salt, choose the small serving and don't add any additional calories by pumping on the "butter." Ideally, air-popped and fat-free would be the best options, or if possible, not having a snack from the movie theater at all. Plan on bringing something healthy or getting a health snack afterwards.

If the calories and the amount saturated fat in movie popcorn aren't enough to get you modifying or eliminating eating popcorn at the movies, knowing the profits that the movie theaters make on inexpensive popcorn might be.

David Ownby, the CFO of Regal Entertainment Group states, "Our cost in that $6 bucket of popcorn is about 15 cents or 20 cents." That means the theater owners are making 5.80 to 5.85 in profit every time you order a large popcorn.

Movie Popcorn by Kathleen Cavalaro.

Fat in Movie Popcorn

Movie Popcorn's 60 gms of fat =

3 Quarter Pounder Burgers +

12 Butter Pats

Popcorn is Profitable for Movie Theaters

Theater operators generate up to one-third of their revenue from selling popcorn, sodas and other snacks. Popcorn is especially profitable.

"We sell a bucket of popcorn for about $6.

Our cost in that $6 bucket of popcorn is about 15 cents or 20 cents."

David Ownby

CFO of Regal Entertainment Group

Another Reason to Rethink Movie Popcorn

Why Popcorn Costs So Much at the Movies: And Other Pricing Puzzles
Why Popcorn Costs So Much at the Movies: And Other Pricing Puzzles

This book by economist and professor Richard McKenzie take a look at the logic in the seemingly illogical pricing system. In the book he shakes the foundations of prevalent pricing myths, including why a relatively inexpensive snack costs so much at the movie theater.


The Healthiest Movie Snack?

What's the healthiest snack to buy at the movies?

You can go for 400 to 1,200 calories' worth of popcorn that (at many theaters) is essentially fried in one to three days' worth of saturated fat.

Or you can buy a package of candy with 300 to 1,100 empty calories (plus at least half a day's sat fat if it's chocolate). Soft drinks dispatch another 150 to 500 calories to thirsty fat cells.

The best snack at the movies? No snack at all.

Center for Science in the Public Interest

BIG: Movie Theaters Fill Buckets...and Bellies

Vote on Movie Popcorn

After reading about what is really in movie popcorn...

Will you change how you eat Movie Popcorn now?

See results

Debate on Popcorn

What do you think? Is Popcorn Healthy?

What about Microwave Popcorn?

Microwave popcorn is not without it's own health risk. There have been concerns about the extra chemicals use to make butter flavor of the microwave popcorn and also in the pre-made microwave bags used to pop the corn.

In 2007 it was reported that microwave popcorn may be harmful to your health if one directly inhales the diacetyl fumes found in the butter. Diacetyl is the chemical that helps create microwave popcorn's buttery aroma. This chemical reportedly has been removed from butter microwave popcorn. Just to be safe, consumers should wait until the popcorn bag has cooled before opening and as an additional precaution open the bag under an exhaust fan.

There is additional concern about the bags being used to pop the popcorn. Perfluorooctanoic (PFOA) is a chemical by product found in the coating of microwavable popcorn bags. PFOA has been labeled a "likely carcinogen" by the Environmental Protection Agency. According to Dr. Weil, the amounts of PFOA is so pervasive that it's detectable in the blood of 95 percent of Americans.

Nutriton Facts Popcorn

Nutrition Facts for Popcorn

Popcorn or corn kernels are considered a whole grain like brown rice or whole wheat.

Plain air-popped popcorn only has 31 calories in a one cup serving along with 4 grams of protein and 5 to 6 grams of filling fiber.

As a whole grain popcorn contains many of the B Vitamins, B-1, B-2, B-3, B-6 and folic acid. Popcorn has the minerals magnesium, zinc, selenium, phosphorus, and iron.

When popcorn is consumed plain (without extra added butter, fat, salt or sugar) it is a healthy treat.

In 2009 scientists reported at the American Chemical Society in Washington that popcorn contains high levels of health-boosting antioxidants called polyphenols, which help reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer and other diseases.

Orville Redenbacher Gourmet Popping Corn Food Label available on Amazon

So is Popcorn Healthy?

To answer the question "Is Popcorn Healthy?" one needs to consider the type of popcorn being discussed. Some types of popcorn are healthier than others.

  • Movie
  • As seen a large serving of popcorn from some theaters can contain 1,200 calories, 980 milligrams of sodium, and 60 grams of saturated fat. Choose the small serving and don't add any additional calories by pumping on the "butter."
  • Microwave
  • There is some concern about the diacetyl used to give microwave popcorn a buttery taste and PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) one of the chemicals in the coating of microwave bags.
  • Air-Popped
  • Out of the three types of popcorn, only air-popped popcorn would truly fit the
  • description
  • of being among the healthiest and tastiest snacks around. Airp-opped popcorn has only 31 calories in a one cup serving, 4 grams of protein and 5 to 6 grams of filling fiber along with many of the B vitamins and several minerals.
When popcorn is consumed plain (without extra added butter, fat, salt or sugar) or sprinkled with no to low calorie toppings, air popped popcorn it is a healthy treat.

How to Make Popcorn

Available from Amazon
Available from Amazon

How to Make Healthy Popcorn

Making healthy popcorn means popping popcorn with additional chemicals as with packaged microwave popcorn or added saturated fats that is found with movie popcorn.

Air popping is the healthiest way to pop popcorn and can easily be done with an air popper.

Popping popcorn on the stove in a big pot is another way of easily making popcorn. To make popcorn on the stove you have to add in some oil and stir the popcorn (or at least shake the pot). Olive oil is one of the healthiest oils to use.

Dr. Weil recommends using Spectrum's High Heat Canola Oil for a neutral taste. One also needs to be aware that every tablespoon of oil used to pop popcorn adds 120 calories and 14 grams of fat.

Cuisinart Popcorn Maker available on Amazon

Best Air Popcorn Poppers

These are the air popcorn poppers with the highest average customer review ratings.

Image by Jeffrey
Image by Jeffrey

Easy Microwave Popcorn in a Lunch Bag

Since there is some concern about the extra chemicals in pre-made microwave bags, you can easily make your own using a plain paper bag.


  • Popcorn
  • Brown Paper Bag (lunch sized)

  • 1. Add three tablespoons of popcorn to the brown paper bag.
  • 2. Fold the top of the bag down several times.
  • 3. Place the bag inside the microwave on it's side.
  • 4. Use the popcorn setting on the microwave or microwave on high 2 to 3 minutes.
  • 5. Listen carefully to the popcorn popping.
  • 6. Stop the microwave as the popping slows down.
Pop additional popcorn if more is needed.

Brown Bag by Jeffery

Microwave Air Poppers

You can also pop popcorn more healthfully using microwave air poppers. A bonus is the air poppers can be reused and aren't tossed out.

Popcorn Bowls

Make your family popcorn eating experience even more special by having a designated popcorn bowl.

Healthy Popcorn Recipes

Tips for Popping Healthier Popcorn

  1. Use lemon juice, toss with herbs sprinkle with Parmesan cheese (My Dad's favorite recipe).
  2. Add cinnamon (or other favorite spices) to popcorn. Use a light cooking spray to get the cinnamon to stick.
  3. Make a healthy popcorn mix with air popped popcorn, raisins, plum amazins (chopped dried plums), craisins, almonds, walnuts.
  4. Toss air popped popcorn with olive oil and favorite Italian seasonings. (This will add extra calories).
  5. Mist the popcorn with water or spray with olive oil baking spray and add in some garlic salt.
  6. Use Himalayan (Pink) Salt crystals. Freshly grind salt onto popcorn.
  7. Spice it up with cayenne or black pepper. Try other ground spices like paprika, cumin, nutmeg, allspice or coriander.
  8. Liven up plain air popped popcorn with flavored cooking sprays.

Add Some Mrs. Dash

Mrs. Dash no salt spice mixes make it easy to season popcorn without extra salt or butter, so there are no extra calories.

Cinnamon Stevia Popcorn is an updated version of the cinnamon-sugar version. This gives you a sweet taste to popcorn.

If you prefer, you can substitute organic sugar for the Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana).


  • 4 -6 cups of air-popped popcorn
  • 2 teaspoons or packages of Stevia sweetener
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (freshly ground if available)
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • Water in Mister or Olive Oil Baking spray


  1. 1. Pop popping corn.
  2. 2. Pour into large mixing bowl
  3. 3. Combine Stevia, cinnamon and salt.
  4. 4. Lightly spray popcorn with water or olive oil baking spray.
  5. 5. Toss Stevia-cinnamon and sugar into popcorn.
  6. 6. Stir popcorn until Stevia, cinnamon and salt are mixed into the popcorn.
  7. Makes 4 to 6 cups of popcorn.
Cast your vote for Cinnamon Stevia Popcorn

Spicy Popcorn

The Spicy Popcorn topping can be adjusted to taste.

Those who like things spicier, might want to add more spices, those who like things milder less spices. Try adding or substituting your favorite spices.


  • 4 -6 cups of air popped popcorn
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin or chili powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne or red pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • Water in Mister or Olive Oil Baking Spray


  1. 1. Pop popping corn.
  2. 2. Pour into large mixing bowl
  3. 3. Combine paprika, cumin (or chili powder), peppers and salt.
  4. 4. Lightly spray popcorn with water or olive oil baking spray.
  5. 5. Toss spice mixture into popcorn.
  6. 6. Stir popcorn until spice mixture is mixed into the popcorn.
  7. Makes 4 to 6 cups of popcorn.

Herb-Lovers Popcorn

Add some of your favorite herbs to season your popcorn with a savory flavor.

Use a dried Italian herbs mixture of thyme, oregano, parsley and basil. To get even more health benefits, use freshly, finely chopped herbs.


  • 4 -6 cups of air popped popcorn
  • 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon fresh or dry herbs
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon sea salt or garlic salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper


  1. 1. Pop popping corn.
  2. 2. Pour into large mixing bowl
  3. 3. Mix herbs with lemon juice.
  4. 4. Pour herb-lemon juice over popcorn and stir to mix well.
  5. 5. Shake on salt and a bit of pepper.
  6. 6. Stir popcorn again until salt and pepper are mixed into the popcorn.
  7. Makes 4 to 6 cups of popcorn.

Popcorn Recipe Book


Food love Patrick Evans-Hylton's look at 70 different tempting recipes to spice up and sweeten your popcorn snacking.


Popcorn Science Fair Projects

Why Does Popcorn Pop?

The question about "Why Popcorn Pops?" is not only an intriguing one for general information, but it also makes a great Science Fair Project.

The Popcorn Board has some great information for getting started explaining the science behind popcorn popping and answering the question "What Makes Popcorn Pop?" There are a few reasons why popcorn pops, when other corn kernels do not.

  • 1. The hull (outside core) is just the right thickness to allow it to burst open when heated.
  • 2. Popcorn kernels contain a small drop of water inside a circle of starch.
If that water inside the kernels gets heated high enough the popcorn kernel pops open the hull.

The Popcorn board explains popcorn science this way, "As the kernel heats up, the water begins to expand. Around 212 degrees the water turns into steam and changes the starch inside each kernel into a superhot gelatinous goop. The kernel continues to heat to about 347 degrees. The pressure inside the grain will reach 135 pounds per square inch before finally bursting the hull open."

As the water inside the popcorn get heated, it turns into steam. The steam causes pressure to build up inside the kernel, which eventually is more than the strength of the hull (kernel) walls. As the hull breaks open, the starchy insides puff out, creating popped popcorn.

Popcorn Science Fair Project by woodleywonderworks

Why Does Popcorn Pop? - Video

It should be noted that the person doing the experiment should have on protective gloves, safety goggles and use a ring stand with clamp for safety. From HomeSchooling.

Counting the Unpopped (Old Maid) Kernels

How Many Unpopped Popcorn Kernels? by jdurham.

National Popcorn Day

January 19

Celebrate Popcorn on January 19th

National Popcorn Day is celebrated on January 19th, although it seems that no one, including the Popcorn Board quite knows the origin of the holiday.

It is thought that Popcorn Day might be tied to the Super Bowl, a time when people eat a lot, and some of that may be popcorn.

Just to make things more confusing National Popcorn Month is celebrated in October. Perhaps this observation has something to do with celebrating fall harvests and Halloween.

Be sure you do not confuse National Popcorn Day with National Caramel Corn Day. The National Caramel Corn Day is celebrated on April 7th.

Handful of Popcorn by simonfilm

Image by simonfilm
Image by simonfilm

  1. Have a healthy popcorn recipe contest to see who can come up with the best tasting, healthiest popcorn topping or mix.
  2. Make popcorn wreaths or garlands. Hang them outside for the birds to enjoy.
  3. Guess the number of popcorn kernels in a container.
  4. Throw and catch the popped popcorn with your mouth.
  5. Set up a popcorn relay race.
  6. Play popcorn volleyball. Try to bat poppped popcorn back and forth.
  7. Play popcorn basketball. Try to throw popped popcorn into a paper cup for a 'hoop.'
  8. Color popcorn coloring sheets.
  9. Learn why popcorn pops.
  10. Do a Word Scramble and make up words from phrases like "Fresh hot popcorn", "Healthy Popcorn," or "Popcorn Kernels."

10 National Popcorn Day Activities

National popcorn day is celebrated eating popcorn and also participating in fun activities. Some of these Popcorn Day activity suggestions come from the Popcorn Board from a teacher in Illinois. Others are my own activity ideas.

Popcorn Activities

Image from Microsoft Clipart
Image from Microsoft Clipart

Easy Popcorn Activities

Not only is popcorn a healthy snack, but it is also a fun (and edible) crafting supply.

Many people think about stringing popcorn to decorate the Christmas Tree, there are other fun ways to use popcorn starting with taking that popcorn garland and putting it outside as a treat for the neighborhood birds.

Before Christmas you might want to make some outside ornaments to hang for the birds.

Popcorn can be used to make wreaths and for decorating pictures. Martha Steward even has a beautiful tutorial on making a fabric cone to hold popcorn that will take your popcorn to an upscale treat.

Stringing popcorn for Christmas Microsoft clipart.

Popcorn Coloring Pages

Have Fun Coloring Popcorn Pages

One way to celebrate National Popcorn day with a fun activity, particularly for school age children is to give them coloring pages with popcorn images for them to color.

The coloring could be part of a healthy popcorn recipe contest, where the kids come up with the healthiest popcorn topping or popcorn mix. After they've got their recipe, they need to color it on a popcorn coloring sheet.

A popcorn prize can be awarded to all of the participants and a larger one (like lots of coloring sheets or coloring pencils) to the grand prize winner.

Popcorn Coloring Image from Microsoft clipart.

Popcorn - The Song

Hot Butter - Popcorn Song

Popcorn as a MP3 Download

Popcorn by Hot Butter was the first primarily electronic-based piece of music to reach the American popular music charts in the 1970s.

Do you remember this song?

The Muppets: Pöpcørn

Special thanks to lensmasters Blessedmombygrace and Crstnblue for finding the funny popcorn video clip by the Muppets Swedish Chef entitled Pöpcørn from the MuppetsStudio.

Did you learn anything about popcorn?

© 2012 Kirsti A. Dyer

Comment on Healthy Popcorn

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • profile image

      Lynn Klobuchar 

      5 years ago

      Yes I did!

    • HealthfulMD profile imageAUTHOR

      Kirsti A. Dyer 

      5 years ago from Northern California

      @PinkstonePictures: Enjoy a healthy version of it.

    • PinkstonePictures profile image


      5 years ago from Miami Beach, FL

      Love Popcorn in all forms including holiday garland popcorn. Really want some popcorn now

    • VspaBotanicals profile image


      6 years ago

      Great lens, and i love the way you have options for all kinds of popcorn lovers. Great lens.

    • vincente lm profile image

      vincente lm 

      7 years ago

      Popcorn overkill! Loving it!

    • Ramkitten2000 profile image

      Deb Kingsbury 

      7 years ago from Flagstaff, Arizona

      How funny; I had no idea yesterday was National Popcorn Day and guess what we had for dinner: Popcorn! We were too lazy to cook and not all that hungry really, so we popped some of my boyfriend's special spicy popcorn. A little Tabasco, some cayanne pepper, salt and a BIG glass of water.

    • ZenandChic profile image


      7 years ago

      Happy popcorn day! I had no idea there was such thing. I love popcorn! Great recipes on here! Blessing this lens! Love how you did it!

    • Richard-H profile image


      7 years ago from Surrey, United Kingdom

      Wow so much information about popcorn! Happy Popcorn Day :)

    • Brite-Ideas profile image

      Barbara Tremblay Cipak 

      7 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      extremely detailed and interesting lens filled with lots to read and learn about popcorn..nice job!

    • Zut Moon profile image

      Zut Moon 

      7 years ago

      You bet ... I didn't think there was enough info to make a lens about popcorn? Very Good Lens.

      So, what about National Beer Day - the day we raise our glasses to CANADAIAN BEER ... not that weak stuff south of our border ... oh wait, National Beer Day is everyday ... Yee Haw ...

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 

      7 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      Happy Popcorn Day to YOU! This is fantastic and popping over with popcorn info. Thanks.

    • Coreena Jolene profile image

      Coreena Jolene 

      7 years ago

      Jam packed with great info here. I am bookmarking and going to try that paperbag microwave method.

    • thingz1 profile image


      7 years ago

      Great info on popcorn. I try not to eat the microwave stuff much (although it's so convenient). Presto poppers are great, especially if you want to prepare with little or no oil.

    • WaynesWorld LM profile image

      WaynesWorld LM 

      7 years ago

      Awesome lens work.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I love reading and seeing lenses on popcorn, what a great holiday.

    • Wednesday-Elf profile image


      7 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

      Mmmm.... popcorn, my favorite snack. I no longer get movie popcorn and I really don't care for microwave popcorn. My favorite way is to pop the popcorn on the stove in a pan... plus I only like 'white' popcorn. The yellow popcorn has a completely different taste. :) Now I'm hungry for popcorn!

    • blessedmomto7 profile image


      7 years ago

      Great lens! Looking forward to popcorn day!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      really informative, will never look at popcorn the same! :)

    • Nancy Hardin profile image

      Nancy Carol Brown Hardin 

      7 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      I love popcorn, but I don't love it air-popped, because there is no flavor. I like your suggestion about popping it in a pot on the stove, because that's the way we did it back in the day when there was no microwave. But I've been known to eat the microwave variety too...heck when you're 72 you get daring! Thanks for a great read!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Popcorn was always my favorite way to fill up teenage boys when our son was a teen. We'd pop tons of popcorn and play trivial pursuit for hours and hours!

    • LisaDH profile image


      7 years ago

      I've got to add this to my calendar so I have yet another excuse to eat popcorn. :-)

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 

      7 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      Love the POP quiz and the directions for making microwave popcorn in a brown bag. Cool! I am going to try that.

    • Shoputopian profile image


      7 years ago from Lower Mainland of BC

      This was awesome, we are popcorn people and now I know how to make brown bag popcorn which looks like a much healthier way to go...Thanks for sharing, blessed...


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